- Joseph P. Stinger
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone;’” (Genesis 2.18)
“They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” (Isaiah 1.4b)
On October 1, 2017, a shooter, SP, murdered 58 people in Las Vegas. We ask, “Why?” We find no easy answer to this question, no slot to place him in. He was not a terrorist, nor an extreme political person of either side. We have found no ranting hate message. Yet, he hated enough to indiscriminately murder 58 strangers.
(I will never use the name of a criminal in my writing. I do not wish to contribute to a fame they might have sought. Seek out and remember the names of those he killed.)
As investigators delve into SP’s life, they have found isolation. His alienation is the root cause for his killing spree. SP came from a broken home with no father. He kept minimal contact with his family. He lived with no real connection. He had two failed marriages, numerous girlfriends, and no children. He moved from place to place, and from job to job.
Although he lived in a community, SP isolated himself from neighbors. None really knew him. As he walked around the neighborhood, he would not look at his neighbors or respond to their greetings.
The girlfriend who lived with him had no idea of his isolation or of his intentions. He did not share any thoughts with the person closest to him in the final weeks before his act.
SP made his living as a gambler. Even there he avoided the social company of fellows who share a table and gamble against the “house.” He played high stakes slot machines. Alone, he sat and stared at flashing numbers in lights. Punching, punching, punching buttons, he focused on the lights without seeing others right next to him. He would block out territory and protect it fiercely against any who might infringe upon it.
This is the picture of a person in complete alienation: utterly estranged from connection, from companionship, from love, with no ties to family, friends, or community. Alienation seared deep into his soul. It killed any caring he might have had for anyone or anything. Thus stood SP in a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, staring down at those he would murder; estranged, locked and uncaring, alienated from any love.
We in this nation “have forsaken the Lord and have despised the Holy One….” Thus, we estrange ourselves from all that is of real value. We sow the wind of isolation and are surprised when we reap the whirlwind of alienation. Weep, America, for those 58 people murdered…
…by one of us. Don't you feel it? Alienation seems to be the last emotion we all have in common. Certainly, SP was an anomaly, the extreme result of our society’s failures. Yet, he was a sign: the symptom of a cancer already raging within us. If we ignore such signs, the cancer of alienation will eat at us until we destroy ourselves in ever increasing acts of hatred and violence.
Does violence haunt us, live within us? Consider Charlottesville. The worst extremes of both sides confront and combat. We say that we are not that type of people, but our verbal war between sides has been the fuel for their hate.
We cannot converse with one another. Consider USC Berkeley. Those of differing opinions are shouted down or threatened. When they do speak, rioters destroy property all around the school.
We contest that most of us would never stoop to such measures. Consider our own lives. We have cut off friends because their opinions differ; or, family because they hold a different party affiliation. We have ceased to communicate, but hurl invective through social media. We listen only that we might contradict and accuse. We shout down one another and turn away.
We are living in alienation, a nation divided into two opposing armies facing across an empty battlefield and waiting for the first shot to unleash the hell of war. We stand fast, cut off and estranged from the goodness which we have buried under our anger. We were one people, but now that seems a distant dream.
Yet, we become one people when disaster strikes. There are no political divisions in the midst of the flooding in Houston, or the devastation of San Juan. (Never mind the posturing of political personalities.) There were none in the midst of the killings on that terrible night in Las Vegas. We rush to aid those in need and we do not ask if they are (R) or (D). We do not ask about belief or religion or opinion. We give. We serve.
Perhaps this is one narrow path we might take to becoming one people again. We heed the call to serve and to care for others. We Christians are called to walk this path of care and service. We can, we must show and teach those around us that love is action; action for the good of others.
Come, America, let us use our sorrow for those 58 murdered people to reawaken a new commitment to one another. We are brothers and sisters first, made in God’s image and precious in His sight. That is the very foundation on which our laws stand, the fabric which knits us together. We are not isolated, unless we choose to be.
In our nation, we have enabled the alienation of SP, of the extremists, and of ourselves. We have written it into our laws, preached it in our schools, and melded it into our lives. We have separated values, ethics and religion from the public square. Do we wonder why all areas of disagreement are brought to the political battlefield? Politics is about division and the battle for power over one another. We have made ourselves into islands, alone and alienated. Yet, God knew from the very beginning: "It is not God that man should be alone." (Gen. 2.18)
Paul calls out to us, “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return, I speak as to children—widen your hearts also.” (2 Cor. 6.12) Let us widen our hearts to reach those isolated in their own affections, alienated from all who would welcome them in love. It is only though Christ that we, reaching out to help one another, will find true value in life and in ourselves.